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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  July 4, 2011 7:00pm-7:30pm EDT

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tavis: part two of our look at the price we all pay as americans for wrongful convictions. dozens of cases have surfaced in illinois. after an investigation from the center of wrongful -- wrongful convictions from northwestern university. we will hear from the men whose lives were nearly destroyed. we are glad you have joined us. >> all i know is that his name is james. he needs extra help with his reading. yes. >> for everyone making a
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difference, you help us live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. oud to improve nancial ianationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: we continue our look at the work being done to deal with those who have been falsely accused and wrongly convicted. the human toll on the innocent people behind bars is only part of the story. the debate over using taxpayer
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money is front and center. consider what these cases are costing us all. 85 cults convictions over a 35- year period have cost taxpayers $240 million. that figure will rise to $300 million or more after lawsuits are settled. in 81 of theas c,es cases, the y found misconduct or error on the part of state officials. we will hear more about the part -- about the work being done at northwestern university. the story of ken berry, falsely accused of a crime while on duty as a police officer. you know something about patience. after all that you have been doing. thank you for your patience. let me give you the microphone. give me the back story.
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the fact that one was in law enforcement and this can happen while you are protecting and serving others. tell me your story. >> that is it in a nutshell. in 1991, i was a police officer with the university of chicago campus police. i was arrested and convicted of a sexual assault that i did not connect. with a young lady and it was made out to be like i was criminal number one. a crooked cop. everything happened so fast. if you have a serious felony charge, people stay in the jail
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a year or two fighting those charges. i was arrested and tried, convicted, sentenced to prison in 4.5 months. tavis: i am trying to figure out how you think all that can happen in four months. >> a few different dynamics. the main thing was i had an incompetent defense attorney. i never been through anything like that before. neither had members of my family. i hired the first attorney whose name came up. he was incompetent. i believe that everybody in the courthouse new that he was incompetent other than me. the state attorney cleared the docket of trial. it does not happen that quickly in cook county. i was arrested november 15 and i went to trial march 3. sentenced april 2.
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shipped out to the penitentiary april 3. tavis: you know that number pretty well. obviously. how did you get out? >> the law firm that i worked for now -- tavis: you are a paralegal? >> yes. when i was in prison, everybody knew me as a jailhouse lawyer. that is all i did. the laws -- the law is what put me there, and that is what set me free. i work for that from now. tavis: what do you do every day? >> i am a member of the pro bono committee. i get a chance to help minorities get access to justice.
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>> i want to give out -- a shout out to northwestern. one of the reason you have so many chicago cases, you haven't the structure of lawyers that pursue it. the difference is not the situation, the difference is a competent legal team of students and professors. tavis: that could be replicated across the country. >> absolutely. tavis: that can be replicated. northwestern is not unique in that regard. others can clearly do that. what benevolent work would that be for law schools across the country. i want to come back to something that ken said something.
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talk to me about the burden, the responsibility, you tell me what it is for you that you have dedicated the rest of your life to representing others who are enduring the same thing you had to go through. >> i was sitting down with the reverend. i wanted an innocent project within our community pride there are only two african-americans that i know of. he was the first african- american that was granted a pardon in the state of illinois. we need that in our community. we need to go into the inner city colleges and direct programs.
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teach these to our young children and ignite their passion so that we can deal with the overwhelming volume of mail that i receive. it is more than i can answer. my dream is to bring these young students and allow them to enter these letters, allow them to assimilate information that can be most helpful to the people behind bars. that is the greatest thing that i can do for them. i have yet to begin to live my life. i want to be married, i want to have a family. i do not have those things. but i cannot allow it to rob me of that dream. >> i took him to a downtown restaurant. i took him to the white sox
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baseball season. we went to the museum. all of this -- his youth was left in those walls. he is trying to catch up with himself. it set the precedent. >> it is my case that allows everyone in the state of illinois to have dna testing. except me. >> his case is the case that set the precedent for dna. tavis: i am trying to process what you just said to me. everybody can be benefited by that, but you. it is kind of a dubious distinction. >> it leaves me in awe also. i would think that is what the system would want to do.
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solve the case and bring the real person to justice. dna would clear me. the samples taken did not belong to me. it was another suspect in the case. they made it disappear. i can understand their reasoning for keeping the truth a secret. tavis: i have sat here for all this time and have looked into your eyes. this is not my first time meeting you. i was so moved by our initial meeting. in all the time i spent with you and those in the audience, others who were falsely convicted, i have not detected bitterness. i of seeing tears on this stage. i have seen an inquest on this
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stage. i have seen angst on this stage. i have seen a lack of understanding about how why this could happen. but i have not detected one bit of bitterness. how is that possible? are you guys all academy award winning actress? >> i focus my anger on the system itself. it is an organization based in philadelphia. we get out and speak to colleges and legislators to try to change the death penalty system in this country. i sat on the board of directors on back and it is thapeutic. every time we tell our story, it is traumatic. that is the only way we will get the system to change. tavis: ken, no bitterness? >> it will not do anything to
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help me and my situation. the only thing it would do would be to tear me down. it would be counterproductive. we'll have to fight. we all have to fight to get where to where we are right now. bitterness is a fight that will hurt yourself. that is why it is not needed. >> i am angry, but i have channel did -- channeled it. i grew up in a housing project. that is where i got my flight from. -- fight from. i distorted my first scholarship to the young it -- i just awarded my first scholarship.
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she wrote a beautiful as safe for me. -- essay forme. i said back and look at the struggles that she has going -- she has gone through growing up and the projects. help somebody else come out of it. i want my 24 years back. i wanted to be a navy officer and that was taken from me. i will fight like a navy seal. they will see more of me. >> how about you, johnnie? >> before i came home, i can not help anyone like ken if i allow myself to be tormented by bitterness. it would have been a cancer. i would not have been able to
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help myself or anybody else. does it mean that i do not get angry? that makes me angry. i have to go five hours down to southern illinois to see her. with the help of the reverend, i promised my dad. i cannot allow bitterness to rule my being at this time. she needs me. i want to one day be married. it would destroy all of that. i cannot do that. god controls my bitterness. tavis: i get the sense tt you
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cry a lot. >> no, i do not. it eokes my emotions. i cannot hide all that i feel. i am able to express how i feel. with these guys, i can be honest about it. the people who have done you wrong, they tried to read your emotions and give a false perception of it. here, i felt comfortable. i am able to allow myself to show the people that are looking and understand that we sit here on this stage, all we want is our life back. there is a called action to 50,000 signatures.
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if that is what is needed to get his attention to do the right thing among innocent people. if you can pardon the guilty people, you can pardon one innont person. let alone all 5. we have to talk for her. it is too overwhelming. at least this gives us a platform. to send a clear message. we want our life back. not tomorrow, but we wanted to day. if he believes that we are going away, he is sadly mistaken. >> each of them as getting therapy.
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you do in life when you lose your life. no one works harder than these guys. somebody who was out of jail, how did you get a job? they are like kids. they are just happy. setting captives free. he is just into this. all these guys are getting their salvation by selfless actions. >> all of us here have had our reputations besmirched. our family's name disparaged. how long will we have this hanover are next? unlike the previous two
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governors, my case has been there nine years on the governor's desk. i urged the governor to stop listening to those who advocate against me only to protect themselves, and grant i innocence. -- my innocence. my grandchildren deserve to have my name officially cleared. tavis: you raise a powerful point. i want to come back to you in a second. i want to talk about public policy. how much of what is not being said today is really about the pain and suffering that everyone is connected to use suffers as well? >> exactly. my children did not deserve what happened to them in 1987. i have custody of a nine-year- old son. i was divorced.
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my mom and dad did not deserve that burden. 25 years later, i have grandchildren that a desperate living in a small farming community, where my family was born and raised, they have that stigma. i have not been officially pardoned. i just think if the governor pardoned guilty people, what is the problem with pardoning innocent people? what voter would have a problem with that? tavis: let's talk public policy. illinois seems to be ground central. for this issue. all across america, there are wrongfully convicted individuals, many of them
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sitting on death row. what do we do about this issue? >> we have to address poverty. we bail out the banks. they're driven by greed and lack of oversight. 100,000 homes in this city are abandoned or vacant lots. you would have more jobs than there are people. the effective use of the public transportation, it must be addressed. the health care is becoming -- the disparities are becoming even greater.
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i think right now, we have the richest americans ever. wall street is full of cash. we have 1000 millionaires. we have more rich people of talk and more wars and more poverty with the jobs being outsourced. there is abounding pain. we need a kind of intervention. given what we know now about -- a presidential commission to review would be like a good gesture. it is such a doable thing. the poor cannot keep perishing. in chicago, it is summertime,
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and students are not getting those two meals a day. they paris. as long as they are in isolation -- this is a great moment. we could make a commitment to reinvest bottom up. i think it would be good for the healing of the nation. i remember when we have the war on poverty many years ago. hunger hurts. that kind of appeal cuts across lines. we need that breath of fresh air.
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we need a renewed hope. tavis: thank you for helping me organize this conversation today. it is long overdue. i'm humbled to be on the stage with you gentlemen. thank you. i appreciate you. thank you. >> these are between the extremes. they are not on death row, they are in protracted death row. they are awaiting trial. they did not have a lawyer, they do not have food. for many of them, a deal becomes a homeless shelter. -- jail becomes a homeless shelter.
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reverend, i want toet well. he was 15 years old. i did not know what to say to him. if they go to high school down the street, they get five meals a week. they have everything in jail that they do not have in the streets. their discipline, adult supervision, a life. these are the extremes and they represented because they were so close to being killed by the street. it is a slow death. most people in the system, they cannot get out and get credit. they cannot have a normal life. we all deserve a better system. tavis: all the best to you with
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the struggles that you are engaged in. i hope that justicetynoangee on for your justice denied. every step toward the goal of justice require sacrifice, suffering, and struggle. these men we met in chicago or a powerful testament to that formulation. t thanks to their continued courage, justice for all is more than just a phrase. that is our show for tonight. until next time, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visits pbs.org. tavis: during the next time with bob lutz and cedric the entertainer. we will see it done. >> all i know is that his name is james and he needs extra help with this reading. >> i am james.
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>> yes. >> for everyone making a erdi,enffdifference, you help ue better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. nationwide in servants -- e is proud to remove obstacles to financial empowerment. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station. thank you.
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